News of the Day: 16 March 2021

RFE/RL: The authorities in Crimea have arrested a man for allegedly spying on behalf of Ukraine, a move Kyiv characterized as propaganda ahead of the seventh anniversary of Moscow’s forcible annexation of the region. Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said on March 16 that Vladislav Yesypenko, who holds dual Russian-Ukrainian citizenship and is a freelance contributor to Crimea.Realities, a regional news outlet of RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, was arrested on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence. According to the FSB, an object “looking like an explosive device” was found in Yesypenko’s automobile during his apprehension. It also said he confessed to collecting data for the Ukrainian Security Service. Yesypenko, along with a resident of the Crimean city of Alushta, Yelizaveta Pavlenko, was detained on March 10 after the two took part in an event marking the 207th anniversary of the Ukrainian poet and thinker Taras Shevchenko the day before in Crimea. Pavlenko was later released. Yesypenko’s lawyer, Emil Kuberdinov, said on March 15 that he had not been allowed to meet with his client since his arrest.

RFE/RL: Russia’s state communications watchdog, Roskomnadzor, has threatened to block Twitter in a month’s time if the social-media network doesn’t begin removing banned content. Roskomnadzor last week announced a slowing down, or throttling, of Twitter’s speed across the country for its “failure” to remove what it said was banned content that encouraged suicide among children and information about drugs and child pornography. On March 16, Roskomnadzor’s deputy head, Vadim Subbotin, said the company still wasn’t complying with the demands of the Russian authorities. “Twitter doesn’t react to our requests appropriately, and if things go on like this, then in a month it will be blocked, on an out-of-court basis,” Subbotin was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

The Moscow Times: A group of high-profile Hollywood celebrities has signed a letter calling on the Russian government to halt the prosecution of punk protest group Pussy Riot members Maria Alekhina and Ludmila Shtein, entertainment news site Deadline reported on Tuesday.  The activists face up to two years in prison for Instagram posts demanding the release of political prisoners following the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.  “These baseless charges are part of the Russian government’s campaign to silence activists and discourage people from further protests stirred by corruption and the unfair and politically motivated imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny,” said the letter, written by Pussy Riot member Nadya Tolokonnikova, who herself spent almost two years in jail on “hooliganism” charges.

RFE/RL: The Russian Guild of Film Critics has dropped its prestigious White Elephant cinema prize after its own expert panel awarded jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny for a series of investigative documentaries revealing evidence of corruption among the country’s top officials. Video investigations released by Navalny over the past year have been viewed tens of millions of times on YouTube. They include reports about a Black Sea palace allegedly built for President Vladimir Putin and a probe into Navalny’s poisoning in Siberia last August, which he blames on Putin and the Federal Security Service. But the viral clips have angered the Russian authorities, prompting official requests that the U.S. video-hosting platform take them down and leading Putin and members of his government to dismiss corruption claims advanced by Navalny, who is now serving a 2 1/2-year prison sentence on one of several charges he contends were fabricated by the Kremlin to sideline and discredit him.

RSF: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the exorbitant fines imposed on Radio Svoboda, the Russian branch of the US government-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, for refusing to label itself as a “foreign agent” in the content it broadcasts. The absurd law requiring this self-labelling violates media pluralism and is designed to silence independent and opposition media, RSF says.

Human Rights in Ukraine: A Russian-controlled court in Simferopol has placed 42-year-old Ukrainian Taras Kuzio under house arrest following mass armed searches of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ homes in occupied Yalta.  The occupation regime has slightly varied the charge this time, although Kuzio is facing the same persecution as other believers for practising his faith. The hearing on 12 March at the ‘Kievsky District Court’ took place behind closed doors, and with a lawyer appointed by the ‘investigators’.  Crimean Solidarity civic journalists were therefore unable to attend the hearing, but cite their own source in reporting that Kuzio is charged with ‘financing an extremist organization’ under Article 282.3 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code. The ‘court’ took into account Kuzio’s two underage children; his state of health and his social ties with Yalta, and ordered house arrest, rather than full detention, as demanded by the ‘investigators’.  Kuzio has also been ordered to have no contact with others involved in the ‘case’ and has been prohibited from using the Internet, sending or receiving mail. Kuzio’s family plan to appeal against the ruling.

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